We are stardust, we are golden, And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden
Joni Mtchell, Woodstock
One version has it starting with a big bang. Out of the void, a massive explosion spews matter and energy to form the universe. Another has a benevolent spirit creating the universe, then the earth, in seven days. Various versions have humans being created by emerging from a dark underground, or being sired by some kind of god(s).
Common to almost all creation myths is the forming of a universe out of nothing. Somehow there’s a collapsing black hole, a place where gods, angels or demons dwell, or an unspecified place from which we appear. It’s not a stretch to see the parallel with human birth – darkness, then violent expulsion into light and air.
In the stories, we are made from clay or bone or a god’s cast-offs. We each receive some form of the ‘breath of life’ to give us a spirit or soul or consciousness. Like Doctor Frankenstein catching lightning to animate his ‘monster’, somehow the matter and energy flowing through the reaches of space combines to form a conscious being.
I am compelled by the image that we are but stardust — matter and energy roiling together in immeasurable space and time — brief flickers of life.
I don’t, however, feel too prescriptive about that. I’m not sure whether others accepting my ‘creation myth’ matters a whole hell of a lot. It doesn’t seem to me that the central concept is that much different from one ‘myth’ to another. Humans create the rules and scriptures that define a body of religion that they say applies to all of us — but I’ve never associated religion with morality.
In broad terms, all people have relatively consistent beliefs about what is good and bad; in fact, the concept of good and evil is itself a common denominator shared by nearly all cultures. We disagree, sometimes violently, about what falls into each category, particularly as it applies to ‘others’.
When my first wife and I moved to a small Arizona town, we were visited by the good Baptist women to welcome us to the community. I had grown up among Baptists and other evangelical congregations, so their approach — instrumental or no instrumental music at worship, dunking versus sprinkling, etc. — was familiar to me. You were either in or out with them, and only those select few would ever reach the gates of heaven.
Mormonism was new to us, so the good Baptist ladies explained the evil ways of the LDS church, the baby killing, demonic rituals, etc. Since I worked with several Mormons, I was pretty skeptical, and upon mentioning that to my co-workers, we were soon visited by the good Mormons doing missionary work.
The Mormon focus was on community, which was refreshing after the good Baptist women, but still had all the trappings of exclusivity. My fraternity in college had secret handshakes and passwords — the Mormon approach seemed similar.
I’ve looked into several religions, and frankly, my issue always seems to be not so much with the religious beliefs themselves, as with the actual human application of them. Most religions seem to devolve into tribal competitions to see who can collect the most scalps. To misquote Malcolm Forbes, “he who dies with the most souls wins.”
It seems to me that pretty much every belief system has at its core some expression of love, charity, loyalty, tolerance, family and community. Do good, not evil. It usually isn’t the religion that falls short of these traits, it’s the people.
A married woman I knew believed that as a Catholic, she could fall from grace by having an extramarital affair, and then be cleansed in confession. In college some of my fraternity brothers had been told that as a non-Jew, you could have sex with a Jewish girl and it didn’t count against their virginity. I doubt that either of these beliefs, if real, would be supported by the religion, but religious rules are different from morality.
Maybe we should work a little harder to live up to our origins. We are a part of things much larger than ourselves, and we should live within that reality. Let’s honor our core beliefs, moral above religious, and allow ourselves to be an integral part of the whole human community.
After all, we are all but stardust, the scatterings of the stars …
Drawing by Jesse Tarlton